Yikes. There are Too Few Jobs

IBM_Selectric_typeballHappy July – the real beginning of summer if you ask me – especially if you had kids in school into early June and you’re still recovering from the spring rush of activities.  Summer feels like an Independence Day through Labor Day season, and with leisure and labor in mind . . .

I hope everyone will read this article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic: A World Without Work.  The bottom line is that – nationally – there are simply fewer jobs.  

“In 1964, the nation’s most valuable company, AT&T was worth $267 billion in today’s dollars and employed 758,611 people.  Today’s telecommunications giant, Google, is worth $370 billion but has only about 55,000 employees – less than a tenth the size of AT&T’s workforce in its heyday.”

In 1964, there were 10,949 pastors serving churches in the largest branch of Presbyterianism in the United States according to this report.  In 2014 there were 20,383 teaching elders in our denomination – almost twice as many clergy. But there are less “jobs” – fewer churches, fewer multi-staff churches.  Associate Pastor positions are increasingly rare while Specialized (non-parish) Ministry positions are more common.  Increasingly we are ordaining candidates to positions as chaplains, seminary professors, counselors, and community organizers both because our understanding of professional ministry is expanding and because there are fewer congregational positions.

It’s possible that in church and church-related positions, as in the secular world, we are going to “run out of jobs.” The economic historian Robert Skidelsky notes that technological industries require fewer workers because they are more “labor efficient.”  It’s not that we are more “labor efficient” in the ecclesiastical world, but due to shifts in church participation, there will most likely be fewer congregations financially able to afford one or more seminary-trained, professional ministers in the future.

Is this terrible news for people seeking jobs/calls?  Not necessarily – although it’s bound to freak us out a bit.

Imagine a wholly different way of life that’s less about work.  The Atlantic article points out that colleges used to be where we learned culture but now college is increasingly where we learn job skills.  “We used to teach people to be free” said historian Benjamin Hunnicutt.  “Now we teach them to work.”  And work is about money in our current culture.

Yes, we will always have bills to pay (and sadly the debts our generations carry are going to be increasingly painful to handle in the future.)  But we are moving towards some interesting changes in our working world.

The impact upon professional ministry?

  • The closing of some of our seminaries (because we don’t need as many trained clergy.)
  • The expansion of a gig economy for pastors (in which pastors serve as consultants, coaches, spiritual directors – patching together several gigs to create a career.)
  • The expansion of tent-making (although for some people carrying more than one job, it seems unsustainable physically and emotionally.)
  • The incorporation of spiritual practices in traditionally secular work (e.g. nurses with pastoral care chops, accountants who promote philanthropic activities, artisan bakers/furniture makers/mechanics who work with their hands as a devotional act).

These shifts could mark the beginning of a new burst of spiritual awakening.  I hope I get to see it (without freaking out.)

Image of an IBM Selectric Typewriter Ball (circa 1961)

11 responses to “Yikes. There are Too Few Jobs

  1. Erik Dailey talked about the pastor’s “side gig” on my podcast last week. That’s becoming the norm, but I think we still have a lot to learn about how to get paid for your side gig.


  2. Planet Money podcast on NPR did a series on robots vs humans and it was fascinating. The final episode was a fictional story called “The Last Job”. Listening to these led my wife and I to some really great conversations.

    It also birthed an idea I had about sermons but I don’t have the technical know-how to pull it off.

    I think it was episode #621-626



  3. It seems like I’ve been hearing for years that when the Boomers retire (if the Boomers ever retire?) there will be lots of jobs.


    • Marci – This is my hope and dream but I’m also seeing Boomers being replaced by Millennials which makes me frustrated for Gen Xers.
      I’m going to a Board of Pensions thing in November and hope we can have a conversation about de-incentivizing post-65 retirement. Long shot, but worth a conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah. Not the first time Gen Xers have gotten the raw end of the deal.
        My good news is I love the church I serve now. I’m staying right where I am.


  4. It will require flexibility and creativity on the part of validating calls. I have found much resistance to even considering something outside the norm.


  5. I think having coaches would be great, but insight is essential and that comes with experience.


  6. Great points, Jan. That third bullet point is a growing edge for the church that particularly interests me. What are the practices and expectations–both for pastors and congregations–that make for sustainable tentmaking? The model of pastor as preacher/counselor/manager/executive/building manager simply doesn’t work with that approach.


  7. I misspoke. Erik Dailey calls it the “side hustle,” not the “side gig.”


  8. Pingback: Who Does Number Two Work For? (Answer: Nobody, Anymore) | YoRocko!

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